Hitchin town hall plans under attack as vote looms

COUNCIL leaders controversial plans to turn a town hall into a district museum are being shot at from all sides, as a vote on the proposals looms. The Tory-controlled North Herts District Council cabinet is under siege from Lib Dems, Labour and fellow c

COUNCIL leaders' controversial plans to turn a town hall into a district museum are being shot at from all sides, as a vote on the proposals looms.

The Tory-controlled North Herts District Council cabinet is under siege from Lib Dems, Labour and fellow councillors who have criticised the rushed nature of the plan to convert Hitchin Town Hall into a district museum.

The plan, which is due to be put to a full council vote on December 3, would see the ballroom converted into a two level museum and the current gymnasium converted into a community space.

David Barnard, Conservative councillor for Hitchwood, Offa and Hoo, said that discussions must be held between the council and parties who are putting forward alternative options for the hall, and called for a deferment of the vote until this had taken place.

He said: "I believe that the present scheme is a very good one. However, I'm aware that there are alternatives that may be an improvement. I have been trying to bring the officers and councillors involved to the table with (prospective town hall managers) Hitchin Initiative to investigate if there's a better way forward."

As The Comet went to press last night (Wednesday), The Hitchin Town Hall Trust, set up this year and headed by council cabinet members, met to discuss the limits of the gymnasium and workman's hall which was entrusted to the district council in 1934. Defining these limits is essential to any redevelopment.

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But Lib Dem councillor for Hitchin Highbury, Lawrence Oliver, said this should have taken place before any plans were made.

"One major issue surrounding the project is the charitable trust which owns parts of the town hall," he said. "The council needs to clarify and resolve this before it can register with the Charity Commission. Only then can they proceed with the proposed development.

"But instead of dealing with this essential prerequisite they have decided to devote council time and tax payer's money in pushing ahead with their plans."

The proposals are opposed by both Lib Dem and Labour councillors who are expected to vote against them, but they are outnumbered almost three to one on the council by Conservatives.

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